The ButtKicker LFE is basically a cylinder with a 5.5-inch diameter, as tall as it is round, with two flat mounting skids. Using four screws, you mount the ButtKicker LFE's small but heavy (11 pounds) black-metal casing to your home-theater furniture, the floor, or a platform that's in contact with your furniture. (Obviously, apartment dwellers need not apply.) Although setting up the ButtKicker LFE isn't difficult, you need to screw it into the surface you want to vibrate.
It's worth noting that the Crowson TES 100, the ButtKicker LFE's primary competitor, has a much simpler design and installation. You simply slip Crowson's bass plates and the included leveling feet underneath the legs of your furniture. Then again, the ButtKicker can be hidden away when properly mounted, while the exposed Crowson plates may be an eyesore in certain rooms.
The ButtKicker LFE is a power-hungry device, requiring between 400 and 1,500 watts of power (at 4 ohms). It will work with any amp that meets those imposing power requirements, but we tested it with ButtKicker's own 1,100-watt BKA1000-4 amplifier ($499 list), which has useful high- and low-pass filters. By comparison, the Crowson TES 100 requires far less power (50 to 500 watts at 6 ohms), so you can pair it with just about any old amp.
We mounted the ButtKicker LFE on the underside of our sofa. Next, we attached a splitter (not included) to our Rotel A/V receiver's subwoofer output and connected one end of the splitter to our subwoofer and the other to the ButtKicker amp's input. Finally, we used standard speaker wire to connect the amp to the ButtKicker LFE.
Although the ButtKicker LFE emitted plenty of bass on its own, putting our NHT Pro S-00 subwoofer in the mix added definition and agility, especially to the upper bass registers. As the company recommends, the unit should be used with a sub, not as a replacement for one.
If you've never experienced tactile effects like those the ButtKicker LFE produces, you're in for a treat. In action movies, you can feel the impact of every explosion, and bass-intensive music takes on incredible presence. Outside the Jack Rabbit Slim nightclub in Pulp Fiction, the ButtKicker LFE gave the rumble of motorcycle engines a larger-than-life feeling. In Jurassic Park, the T-Rex snarled and stomped the earth with power so lifelike that our cat looked scared. The ultradeep bass line in Bass Factory 808's "Woofer Warm-up" made our couch pulsate like a techno club's dance floor, and the track "Hypnotize Me" made it feel as though the floor was rippling under our feet. The only drawback we noticed was a very slight delay between when we heard the kick drum in our main speakers and when the ButtKicker LFE vibrated.
At $299 (list price), the ButtKicker LFE costs far less than Crowson's TES 100 sofa kit ($649), but the Crowson kit is easier to install and can be driven by a cheaper, lower-power amp. But ButtKicker will soon be bowing an LFE Kit model that also includes an amplifier, cables, and a couch-mounting accessory which--for a total price of $599--would offer the best comparative value. If your home theater isn't complete without a rattling sofa, you can't go wrong with either the Crowson or the ButtKicker; just be sure to choose the one that best suits your aesthetic and power requirements.